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Since 1980, Schug has been a champion of Carneros-made wines, promoting the quality of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay made from that region’s grapes. Yet the success of his namesake winery is only the latest chapter in a long career that will be celebrated this fall when, for the 50th vintage, he guides grapes into the press. In 1959, Walter completed his apprenticeship and studies at Geisenheim, Germany’s top winemaking school, graduating with degrees in both enology and viticulture. That year, with several vintages of experience already under his belt, Walter made the decision to head to California.
By 1973, Walter's experience was sought out by Joseph Phelps, one of the Napa Valley's true winemaking visionaries. Walter became the founding winemaker for Phelps. His accomplishments there are: California’s first proprietary Bordeaux-Style blend (Insignia). Legendary vineyard designated wines (Bacchus and Eisele Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons). The first varietal Syrah in the US. Pioneering late harvest dessert wines (Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Scheurebe). Walter recalls "After it was decided in 1980 that the Phelps Pinot Noir would be discontinued, Joe graciously allowed me to continue my efforts on my own." With help from his employer, Schug made his first few vintages at the Phelps winery, while continuing in his capacity as their winemaker. It was not until 1983 that Walter would leave Phelps, to concentrate full time on his own venture.